(Yeah, so I'm a little behind in getting this finished and posted... but I finished and it's posted, miracle of miracles, and I hope to update very soon with news from the start of the new semester. Wheeeee.... it's crazy, it's crazy, this place makes me crazy...)
Fear not, dear reader, both the rice AND the gravy shall be explained in due time. But for now...
December 24th, 10pm Central Standard Time. I can't believe a year went by so fast...
*stops typing, turns off her RENT playlist, and continues typing*
Right then. As you may or may not know, my family is quite keen on keeping holiday traditions, though not to the point of keeping a tradition for a tradition's sake. Most often, our Christmas traditions were started when Mom and Dad sat down and said, "All right, how can we see your family and my family before New Year's without going completely insane?", and thus what we have done for as long as I can remember --switching back and forth between the two families so that we are not with one side of the family on Christmas Day two years in a row-- is for the sake of keeping our lives simple and keeping all the relatives happy.
First in the tradition process? The preparations. As I stated in my post about Milton Thanksgiving traditions, our Christmas decorating starts Thanksgiving Night after all the extended family members have gone home. Mom and Dad first figured out back when my sister and I were but wee kiddies that bringing out the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Night kept the family from getting the post-holiday blues; again, a tradition begun to keep our lives simple and keep everyone happy... besides, it gives us something to look forward to after the headache-generating chaos of Thanksgiving. I have so many fond memories of the annual tree decoration, many of which revolve around the humorous process of annually forgetting which tree branches get installed first (often accompanied by Dad shoving a branch at me or my sister and asking, "Does that look like red or orange to you?"), the painstaking task of keeping the cats out of the tree once it's set up, and endless hours of playing The Find-The-One-Bad-Bulb-In-The-String-Of-Five-Thousand-That-Makes-All-The-Others-Go-Out Game. Truth be told, we have even been known to play The Oh-You-Mean-THAT-Giant-Hairy-Spider-In-The-Tree-Bin! Game, but only on very rare occasion. And, after the tree is up, whether or not the garlands go up in the Dining Room is often dependent on how many giant hairy spiders we've found throughout the evening. :)
The events leading up to Christmas are almost as exciting as celebrating the holiday itself. There is a semi-annual caroling party with the members of our church, which always starts the downhill snowball of anticipation for Christmas. Every year we bundle up and gather together at our church, load up in car caravans and the church van with kids, our pastor, our choir director, the youth group, and any brave souls who don't mind riding in the van with the youth group; we have a box of candles, a box of carol songbooks (since no one seriously knows anything past the first stanza of a Christmas carol, as far as I've observed), and more gusto than we have actual ability to sing. However, this year's party was a bit of a bummer. There were no candles, hardly anyone from my youth group, and worst of all, it was sixty-five degrees outside. I've never seen so many carolers in tee-shirts and shorts in my life. ...it was a tad depressing, to say the least, but there's always next year to make up for it.
Another fine tradition we Miltons look forward to is the annual Office party, in which all six of the office workers, including Mom and Dad, gather together for fellowship over the dining room table... okay, so it's not as snazzy as a full-blown office party -- we pretty much just sit around and eat ribs. Lots of ribs. There's a place here in town that makes the most amazing, mouth-watering, fall-off-the-bone ribs this side of Birmingham, so if the promise of a good time is not enough to get everyone together, the dangling carrot of Fat Man's ribs certainly is. My sister and I are not workers in the Office, but seeing as how Dad's business is stationed in the house and Kate and I kind of live here, we are fortunate enough to not be left out of the festivities. ...plus, we like the ribs, too.
But I digress...
Family! Ah, family. I can't understand why folks my age say they hate visiting relatives. Every other year we spend Christmas with my mom's side in Huntsville, and that's where all the fun begins. Whenever we all get together, it's known that someone will inevitably begin yet another family running joke; this is where the "rice and gravy" comes in, as it is one such joke. At my cousin's graduation in May 2005, the night my family arrived Aunt Kim had prepared a huge pot of rice to go with our KFC dinner, but she thought the rest of the family was coming that night and fixed far too much rice (it was enough to feed a small army, but not quite enough to feed my church's youth group). And, considering KFC gave us twice as much gravy as we'd asked, we had (easily, IMO) a gallon of gravy and more rice than anyone should want to eat in a lifetime. Needless to say, we ate rice and gravy with everything that weekend, and nowadays we still grin and rib each other at the mention of the rice and the gravy. Another joke of which my mother is fond of reminding me has to do with my rather accident-prone nature. Growing up, I thought it would go away as I entered adolescence, but it only got worse as I entered Jr. High. So, when I was fourteen, we spent Christmas Eve in the Huntsville emergency room because I had mysteriously gotten poison ivy around my eye. Ever since then, when we drive past the emergency room, Mom says, "Elizabeth, let's go visit everyone at the hospital, just for old times' sake!"
Every year at my grandparents' house, we endeavor to cram as many people into a house that, as it has been noted, could crumble at the foundation if my grandfather's snoring boston terrier decided to sleep in just the right place. In fact, for many years there was so much snoring between my uncles, my dad, and BeeJay (the dog) that I'm surprised no one came to investigate the unexplained seismic activity in my grandparents' neighborhood. But the house has survived; that three-bedroom/two-bathroom house has been the cozy lodging for all thirteen of us (fifteen if you count the two dogs; sixteen if you count my cousin Britany's boyfriend) for as many Christmases as I can remember, but we're all so noisy and having so much fun that we never think twice about how tight a squeeze it really is. As a matter of fact, we seem to run out of room for presents once we fill up the house with humans and dogs, and one year Dad the Engineer came up with a solution that we came to call The Tower of Presents, built in the corner of Koo Koo and Papa's dining room. It was an elaborate and delicate operation that, since then, has become a bit of a tradition... mainly because it's so entertaining to watch Dad, Uncle Jim, and Michael get so involved with the Tower construction. These three are also the amigos who must, must, must have a game of Risk whenever the opportunity arises. Ah, yes, nothing quite brings a family together like a friendly game that will ultimately determine world domination.
Oh, and as a point of interest, Aunt Kim was in charge of the prep for Christmas dinner. We had ham, casseroles, carrots, deviled eggs, rolls... and, of course, rice and gravy.
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